Youth Weightlifters Make Great . . .

Football, baseball, basketball, gymnastic, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, and track and field athletes. The explosive power, strength, flexibility, balance and agility developed through Olympic-style weightlifting transfers to almost every sport making weightlifting a great foundation for youth athletes.

What is the problem with this?

Coaches developing youth weightlifters struggle to keep their athletes. Once kids reach high school, the most athletic ones are heavily recruited by high school coaches to join team sports. Peer pressure compounds the issue. Kids want to be with their friends. Since youth weightlifters are more likely to train one-on-one with a coach or with athletes of various ages, they may want to join their peers in other sports.

The result . . .

The sport of weightlifting loses many potential superstars before they are even developed.

Sure, athletes can always return to the sport of weightlifting, but in what condition? Injured from another sport? With reduced mobility? Weightlifters who continue the sport through adolescence will have an advantage over those who leave the sport and return later.

What are some possible solutions?

Ray Jones, coach of 17-time youth American record holder, C.J. Cummings, provides some insight: “Weightlifting offers two huge incentives that other sports do not offer–travel and international representation.”

Travel: Most high school sports teams compete locally. The best athletes may travel to represent their schools at a state championship, but that is usually the extent of the travel opportunities.

Weightlifting, in contrast, offers travel opportunities to other states and even to national and international competitions. It is not uncommon for weightlifters to cross state lines to compete. In addition, a youth weightlifter can qualify for USA Weightlifting’s (USAW) Youth National Championship with a modest amount of training and preparation. Coaches seeking to retain youth weightlifters can make the sport more appealing by giving their athletes opportunities to compete outside of their local area, including USAW’s annual Youth National Championship.



International Competitions: Representing the United States at an international competition is a point of prestige for any athlete. An athlete who has represented not just their school–but their country–is very unique. The biggest promotion USAW can receive is from kids walking through schools wearing their Team USA jackets, which they earned by representing their country at an international competition.

Photo credit: Amy Yun

USA Weightlifting can grow the sport and retain its current youth athletes simply by making more international competition opportunities available to more kids.

The United States currently sends delegations of youth weightlifters to the Youth Pan American Games, Youth World Championships and Youth Olympic Games.

While these are fantastic opportunities, they favor 16-17 year old lifters. Younger lifters must beat out older lifters for an opportunity to compete. Unfortunately, many youth weightlifters are lured away from the sport before they ever qualify for these competitions.

In 2017 and 2018, USAW sent a delegation of youth weightlifters to the South American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship. This was a great opportunity for younger athletes to shine. Even more athletes could participate, however, if there was a North American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship. Such a competition, which could be self-funded like the South American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship, would create more youth ambassadors for weightlifting in the United States. Alternatively, USAW could organize smaller invitational competitions with Canada and/or Mexico.

Youth weightlifters make great athletes. They have explosive power, strength, flexibility, balance and agility that transfers to many sports. These qualities, however, make them particularly vulnerable to leave the sport in favor of team sports. To retain these athletes, coaches should seek out competition opportunities outside their local area, including USAW’s annual Youth National Championship. USAW should continue to pursue international opportunities for its younger athletes, including a North American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship.

Cover Photo Credit: Lifting.Life

Feature Athlete: Kaiya Bryant

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hirteen-year old, Kaiya Bryant, became the fourth female in history to medal at the International Weightlifting Federation’s Youth World Championships when she took home silver and bronze medals in Las Vegas on March 9, 2019.  Kaiya’s performance was especially impressive because she was the youngest lifter in her session, and the Youth World Championships was her first international competition.  

Kaiya, who trains with Coach Kerri Goodrich at Performance Initiatives in Savannah, Georgia, shares some insights into her life:

Q: When did you begin weightlifting?

I started when I was 9 years old.

Q: What brought you into the sport?

Coach Kerri was my brother’s gym coach at school.  She asked my brother if he wanted to join her after school program and lift weights. My brother signed up, and I signed up along with him.

Q: What is your favorite part about training?

I like to hang out with my friends doing something I love.  I also know that people look up to me, which motivates me to work hard and do my best.

Q: You recently won a silver medal in the C&J and a bronze in total at the YWC.  Tell me about that experience.

During the competition, I was very nervous.  It was my first international competition, and I was the youngest person in my session.  I didn’t know how I would do.  I thought I would just have a fun experience.  I did not expect to take home any medals.  

After my openers, I felt more confident.  I realized that I was doing well in the competition and even had a chance to medal.  Afterwards, I felt very proud of myself.  I was able to bring home medals and represent the United States at the same time. 

Q: What is your favorite thing to do outside of weightlifting?

I like to play basketball. 

Q: What did you do to pick yourself up when you are discouraged in weightlifting?

Sometimes when I am not hitting the weights I want to hit in training, I just sit by myself and give myself a pep talk.  I remind myself that I can always hit the weight another day.  

Q: What is the best advice you have ever received regarding weightlifting?

At Youth Worlds, I received a red light from the center referee for one of my lifts.  I was not feeling great about it.  One of the side referees came up to me after the session, though, and encouraged me.  She told me that I was a great athlete with a big future and that she hoped to see me at the Olympic Games someday.  That was very encouraging to me.

Q: What does Coach Kerri tell you to motivate you?

Coach Kerri tries to build my confidence by having little talks with me.  Sometimes, though, when she knows I can do something but I don’t have the confidence, she will load my bar for me.  She will tell me that I am lifting a lighter weight, but I’m actually lifting a heavier weight.  I lift the weight, and then she tells me how much I lifted.  It builds my confidence.

Q: What are your goals for the future?

I want to continue to work hard.  I would also like to qualify for Junior Worlds in 2020 and someday become an Olympian.

Maximizing Your Insulin Response

“Carbohydrate” has become a dirty word in recent years due to the popularity of high-protein diets like the Paleo Diet and the Keto Diet.  These diets strive to maximize the body’s fat burning abilities by keeping insulin levels low and forcing the body to use fat as fuel.  

Unfortunately, these high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets do not maximize a weightlifter’s muscle building potential.  Consider these facts–

Anabolic hormones stimulate muscle growth and development. 

The body has three primary anabolic hormones:

  • Testosterone
  • Growth Hormone
  • Insulin  

Insulin is required to build muscle.  

USA Weightlifting’s sports dietitian, Meagan O’Connor explains:

Insulin helps to maintain blood glucose within a normal range. As you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose for energy into the bloodstream. When glucose levels rise, insulin is then secreted to help store glucose in the muscles, liver, and fat cells. So, insulin is an anabolic hormone (promotes building) of muscles. 

Insulin is even more anabolic than growth hormone, so diets that suppress the body’s insulin response hinder the body’s ability to create and maintain muscle mass.  

The body is very sensitive to insulin during and just after intense physical activity, especially weight training.  

A weightlifter can maximize this phenomenon by consuming fast-acting glucose forms during and just after lifting weights.  

USA Weightlifting’s sports dietitian, Meagan O’Connor explains:

Since weightlifting is using the stored glucose in our muscles for energy, it is important to consume fast-acting glucose forms (such as a sports drink or a granola bar made with refined grains). These break down faster in our bodies to get into the bloodstream and secrete the insulin to then rebuild and repair the muscles.

Fast-acting glucose forms are simply foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI). High GI foods are fast-digesting carbohydrates that enter the bloodstream quickly causing insulin to spike.

High GI foods Include:

  • Sugar
  • Candy
  • Sports Drinks
  • Soda
  • White Bread
  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Sugary Cereals
  • White Rice
  • Pasta
  • White Potatoes
  • Pretzels 
  • Rice Cakes 
  • Popcorn

A weightlifter can maximize muscle building and repair by consuming high GI foods during and just after training.

Caution: More is Not Better.  Inducing an insulin spike during and just after weightlifting boosts your body’s muscle building and repair potential.  However, eating high GI foods throughout the entire day is not beneficial.  High GI foods spike insulin. When the body has high levels of insulin, it will not burn fat.  It will simply use the carbohydrates available as fuel and store any excess in the muscles and fat cells.

Give your body a chance to burn fat by limiting your high GI foods to during and just after your workouts.  Through the rest of the day, strive to eat low GI foods, which will digest more slowly and not create a large insulin spike.

Photo Credit: Matthew Bjerre

References: 

  1. Ishii, Tomofusa, et al. “Resistance training improves insulin sensitivity in NIDDM subjects without altering maximal oxygen uptake.” Diabetes care21.8 (1998): 1353-1355.
  2. DC, Clay Hyght. “The Insulin Advantage.” T NATION, www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/insulin-advantage.
  3. “Glycemic Index and Diabetes.” American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/glycemic-index-and-diabetes.html.
  4. “What Are Anabolic Hormones?15+ Ways To Boost It for Muscle Growth.” Total Shape, totalshape.com/supplements/how-to-boost-your-anabolic-hormones/.

The Most Important Thing

What is the most important aspect of developing a youth weightlifter?  Coaches of elite youth weightlifters weigh-in on the most important part of the process:

 

Ray Jones, coach of Youth World Record Holder C.J. Cummings and 2019 Youth World Team member Dade Stanley

Keeping athletes healthy and injury free.  I want to see my youth athletes lift in the Masters division.  It is not about the moment.  I want weightlifting to be something my athletes can do as long as they want to do it.  

 

Dane Millercoach of Haley Reichardt (2016 Youth Worlds bronze medalist), Kate Wehr and Emma Esterbrook (youth national champions) 

Technique.  The absolute most important aspect is to not only teach technique for proper movement but teach athletes the value of technique, what to look for technique-wise in other lifters and how to feel technically sound positions!

 

Kevin Doherty, coach of Olympian Jenny Arthur and 2019 Youth World Team member Seth Tom

Recruitment! Being in a comprehensive school setting allows me to funnel massive amounts of humanity through a weightlifting curriculum.

Second, teaching progression!

 

Jimmy Duke, coach of 2018 youth Olympian Jerome Smith and youth national champions Antwan Kilbert and Destiny Snider

Be Flexible.  The most important thing I have learned from coaching is that no two kids are the same.  Kids learn differently, move differently, have different mobilities and have different levels of athleticism or athletic experience.  So when it comes to putting concepts in an athlete’s head, especially a young athlete, you have to be ready to change plans.  You have to be flexible in your coaching method and verbal cues if you want to be an effective coach.

 

Ben Hwa, coach of 2019 Youth World Team member Seth Tom and co-coach of Hassle Free Barbell

Compete early and often. I think it sets a good precedence for kids to be unafraid to put themselves out there and show the progress they’ve made. It’s something that keeps them accountable to train and a way to continually show validation throughout the process.

 

 

Tripp Morris, coach of 2018 Youth Pan American bronze medalist and 2019 Youth World Team member, Hampton Morris
Patience.  As a coach, you have to have patience when developing a successful weightlifter.  Develop a long term plan and have patience to work that plan.

 

Opportunity. An athlete needs to have opportunity to develop into a successful weightlifter.  Athletes can have huge potential and a great work ethic, but without access or opportunity to work, then they will always be limited.
Photo Credit for all photos: Lifting.Life

Will Weightlifting be Dropped from the Olympic Games?

A January 22, 2019 press release from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) revealed six doping violations from the 2018 IWF World Championships, all involving Thai athletes.

These doping violations come at a pivotal time for the sport.  In June 2017, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach told reporters:  “The IWF has until December 2017 to deliver a satisfactory report to the IOC on how they will address the massive doping problem this sport is facing.”

Since June 2017, the IWF has taken several measures to clean up the sport.  Most notably, in October 2017, the IWF banned nine countries–Russia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkey, China and Kazakhstan–from participating in international competitions for twelve months.  The countries, referred to as the Tbilisi Nine, incurred three or more positive results from the retesting of frozen samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games.

The Tbilisi Nine were punished with a one year ban for having three or more positives across two competitions.  Thailand had six positives in a single competition.  With a delegation of 19 athletes, Thailand’s doping violations amounted to a 32% doping rate amongst their athletes.

The first two of Thailand’s World Championships positives were announced on Dec. 23: women’s super-heavyweight bronze medalist Duanganksnorn Chide (above) and 17-year-old Teerapat Chomchuen, the only male among the six. The other four, named by the IWF on January 22, are reigning Olympic champions Sopita Tanasan (48kg) and Sukanya Srisurat (58kg), plus Thunya Sukcharoen and Chitchanok Pulsabsakul. Photo credit: Tim Scott, Lifting.Life

 

The ban on the Tbilisi Nine sent a clear message to the weightlifting community that countries with athletes who dope will be punished as a whole.  Nothing less than a one year ban for Thai weightlifters should be accepted by the community.  In fact, greater punishment is warranted in Thailand’s case.  The astounding number of positives suggests systematic doping, an act that resulted in Russia’s removal from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.  In addition, Thailand’s doping occurred after the ban on the Tbilisi Nine, suggesting that a one-year ban is not enough to deter countries from doping.

Interestingly, the 2019 IWF World Championships are slated for September in Pattaya, Thailand.  To assure the IOC that weightlifting is standing strong against doping, the IWF should relocate the 2019 IWF World Championships, ban Thailand from participating in the sport for at least a year, and completely remove them from the 2020 Olympic Games.  Anything less may jeopardize weightlifting’s presence as an Olympic Sport.

Photo Credit: Lifting.Life

Is Weightlifting Cleaning Up?

For many years, the sport of weightlifting has been fraught with instances of illegal drug use, a.k.a. doping.  Clean athletes stood on the sidelines as their drug-enhanced counterparts took home the medals and glory of championship titles.  Cynicism abounded in the United States.  No one believed that U.S. athletes could bring home medals because of athletes–and countries–who flagrantly violated anti-doping policies.

In recent years, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has stepped up its measures to clean up the sport:

  • In June 2017, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, Thomas Bach, warned that weightlifting may be excluded from the 2024 Olympic Games if it did not provide a satisfactory report to the “massive doping problem” by December 2017.  IOC president Thomas Bach told reporters:  “The IWF has until December 2017 to deliver a satisfactory report to the IOC on how they will address the massive doping problem this sport is facing.”
  • The IWF subsequently implemented the IOC’s recommendations to clean up the sport, including introducing a new Anti-Doping Policy and securing WADA compliance.
  • In December 2017, the IOC acknowledged the IWF’s efforts but determined that the status remained unchanged, and that the sport’s inclusion in the 2024 Olympics was “subject to the IWF further demonstrating that it has fulfilled certain conditions.”
  • The IWF has continued to take measures beyond those recommended by the IOC, such as new bodyweight categories and a new Qualification System designed to reward nations with a history of clean weightlifting.  In addition, the IWF partnered with USA Weightlifting and USADA to provide worldwide anti-doping education to weightlifters.
  • In June 2018, the IOC again revisited the matter of inclusion in the 2024 Olympic Games and again determined that weightlifting’s inclusion was still pending review.

So, is the sport actually getting cleaner?

The 2018 IWF World Championships, held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, November 1-10, displayed plenty of evidence that the sport is, in fact, cleaning up:

Rainbow of Representation on the Podium: The podium was not dominated by a handful of countries. Of the 30 medals contested in the Men’s sessions, 17 of these medals went to different countries.  Only five countries took home multiple medals, with only China (9 medals) taking home more than two Men’s medals.

On the women’s side, athletes from 13 different countries were represented on the podium.  Only four countries took home multiple medals, although China (10 medals) and Thailand (6 medals) each took home a large number of Women’s medals.

In comparison, only 15 countries were represented on the podium in the Men’s sessions of the 2015 World Championships, and only 9 countries were represented in the Women’s sessions.

Guangzhou, China is home to over 13,000,000 people.

China took home 19 of the 60 total contested medals, or 32% of the medals, at the 2018 World Championships.  This sounds like a disproportionate share.  However, when you consider that 25% of the world’s population lives in China, China’s medal haul does not seem out of line.

Performance of the Tbilisi Nine.   In October 2017, the IWF banned nine countries–Russia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkey, China and Kazakhstan–from participating in international competitions for twelve months.  The countries, referred to as the Tbilisi Nine, incurred three or more positive results from the retesting of frozen samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games.  None of the nine participated at the 2017 World Championships in Anaheim.  All nine countries, however, participated in the 2018 World Championships in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

In a December 11, 2018 article by insidethegames, Attila Adamfi, director general of the IWF, pointed out some interesting points of performance from the 2018 World Championships in Ashgabat:

Apart from China, the “Tbilisi nine” showed a marked drop in performance in the recent IWF World Championships in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, which is seen as an indicator that the IWF’s tougher stance on doping is working.

Adamfi called Ashgabat “a milestone event” and said, “It is interesting that more than half of the athletes from the nine did not even make the A Groups, with 64 of 122 in the B, C and D Groups.”

He said there was “a clear distinction between China and the rest” based on their doping record of only two positives since 2011, the evidence of which “suggests their recent success was not supported by doping”.

“Take out China and look at the other eight,” said Adamfi.

“Azerbaijan, all seven athletes in C or D Groups, not even one in B.

“Out of 20 in Kazakhstan’s team, 12 in B and C Groups, and only two medals in total.

“Their role was more realistic, their performance level much more equal to the others.”

Lower Posted Totals from Tbilisi Nine Athletes.  Excluding China, fourteen athletes from Tbilisi Nine countries competed in both the 2015 and 2018 World Championships.  Of these fourteen athletes, only four posted higher totals in the 2018 World Championships.  The other 10 athletes posted lower totals in 2018 than in 2015.

Of this group, the average decrease in total weight lifted for Men was 3.8%, and the average decrease in total weight lifted for Women was 5.3%.  This decrease suggests cleaner athletes with more realistic totals.

Artem Okulov secured Russia their first of two medals of the 2018 IWF World Championships. Photo Credit: Mahassen Hala Paiva @liftinglife

Fewer Medals Claimed by Tbilisi Nine Athletes.  Again excluding China, Tbilisi Nine athletes claimed 29% of the Women’s medals at the 2015 World Championships but only 10% of the medals in the 2018 World Championships.  Similarly, these countries took home 42% of the Men’s medals at the 2015 World Championships but only 23% of the Men’s medals at the 2018 World Championships.

What does this mean for youth weightlifters?

It appears that weightlifting is cleaning up!  This is encouraging for all youth lifters and their coaches.  It gives us all hope that hard work will pay off.  Do your part to keep the sport clean by familiarizing yourself with the material on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency website and checking all of your supplements–including protein powders and vitamins–for banned substances.

Cover Photo Credit: Ryan Paiva @liftinglife

Lessons Learned from the Youth Olympic Games

In October 2018, Peyton Brown and Jerome Smith traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games. Both athletes delivered outstanding performances, with both placing higher than any U.S. athletes have ever placed at the Youth Olympic Games.

Peyton Brown (58 kg), age 17, earned a bronze medal making her the first American to bring home a medal at the Youth Olympic Games. She totaled 186kg with a 85kg snatch and a 101kg clean & jerk. Photo Credit: USA Weightlifting

 

Jerome Smith (69kg), age 17, finished 4th with a best snatch of 127kg, best clean & jerk of 155kg and total of 282.

Jimmy Duke, personal coach of Jerome Smith, shares the highlights and challenges of the Youth Olympic Games:

The Youth Olympic Games was a really cool experience. It was incredible to see an Opening Ceremony that was for my athlete. It was cool to see all of these buildings that had been constructed just for this event and know that my athlete would be a part of it.

The 2018 Youth Olympic Games had a lot of cool firsts. For starters, the opening ceremony was held in an open town square, not in a stadium. The Games were free to the public; you just had to wait in line. It was great to see the Argentine government compensating their people for the inconvenience of the Games by offering free admission.

The Games, however, presented some challenges for Coach Duke. Specifically, the United States was given a single coach credential, which was not transferrable. Coach Brown, Peyton’s personal coach was given the credential, putting Coach Duke in an interesting position:

The experience that Jerome and I had was different because I was not a credentialed coach. After Jerome got off the airplane, they took him off, and I had to find a taxi and go to my own hotel.  Things were made even worse by the fact that Jerome’s phone froze while we were on the trip, making it impossible to text or message him.

The Games were very spread out through the city of Buenos Aires, with some of the events even taking place outside the city. Fortunately for the weightlifters, the competition venue was only about a quarter-mile from the athlete village, and a shuttle bus transported athletes from the village to the venue.

It was a little more difficult for me. Since I was not credentialed, I could not go to Jerome’s training sessions or coach him at the event.

From this experience, Coach Duke learned some valuable lessons:

Prepare Your Athlete to Compete Without You.

As much as every coach wants to be at every competition with his athletes, this is not realistic. Says Coach Duke:

I love Jerome to death, and I’ll be at every single event that I can, but there will come a day when I can’t be at an event, and he will have to compete on his own. He needs to be okay with it. At the end of the day, your athlete must be able to make the lifts, with or without you.

To help Jerome prepare, Coach Duke began with a frank discussion:

Jerome and I went to a weightlifting camp in August. This was when I found out that there was only one weightlifting credential, and that I would not be getting it. I talked to Pyrros [Dimas], who had worked with Jerome several times in the past. Pyrros assured me that he would be there to coach Jerome. Before we left the camp, Pyrros and I sat down with Jerome and let him know what would be happening. I think this helped Jerome mentally prepare long before the competition.

Prepare Everything Before the Competition.

I wanted to mitigate as many issues as possible before the competition. I spent a lot of time before the competition going over things in my head to ensure that Jerome had all of the things he needed. Also, Jerome had already done all of his heavy training before we arrived. I gave David Brown [the team leader] and Pyrros the workouts, and they followed my plan in the training hall with Jerome.  Jerome competed on the fourth day of the games.

Get Credentialed!

For Coach Duke, credentialing was a major issue. Without it, he could not coach his athlete either in training or the competition. It was difficult for Duke to even get into the venue to watch Jerome compete because of long lines. Says Duke:

Getting the lowest level credential was almost impossible by the time the Games started. If someone had told me in advance, I would have volunteered just to get a credential. Interestingly, one man with a credential said that he would trade me his credential for my USA Weightlifting jacket. While it was an enticing offer, I declined.

Coach Duke advises coaches of potential 2020 Olympic athletes:

If you think you have someone eligible for Tokyo, fill out a volunteer application with the IOC [International Olympic Committee]. If you want to be in the back with your athlete, fill out the paperwork and take it seriously.

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t bother the IOC and don’t complain. If you are not willing to get credentialed by the IOC, expect to be disappointed.

Ultimately, Jerome pulled off a stellar performance, making five of his six lifts, and Coach Duke could not be prouder:

Even though I sat on the sidelines, it was a brilliant experience. Jerome competed great. He had some adversity in the warm up. He pushed hard, though, and did fantastic. I was so proud of him. At the end of it, Jerome was asked by an interviewer how he felt about placing higher than any American had ever placed in a Youth Olympic Games. Jerome responded, “I made 5 out of 6 lifts. I don’t really care how anyone else has done before me.” I gave the interviewer the same answer. It wasn’t about anyone else, it was about Jerome.

If you have done your best, you should be proud of your performance. Jerome understood that. As a coach, this made me very proud.

 

Feature Athlete: Coby Rhodes

At age 15, Coby Rhodes of Deland, Florida, is a three-time national weightlifting champion and recently qualified to represent the United States at the International Weightlifting Federation’s Youth World Championship in March 2019.  Coby (61 kg) is dedicated to learning all elements of weightlifting and is on track to achieve great things within the sport.

When did you get started in this sport? I started Olympic Weightlifting in November of 2014. 

What got you started? I took up CrossFit from my parents, and one day at the gym, Olympic weightlifting classes were offered. Since then I’ve been hooked. 

What do you enjoy most about weightlifting? I enjoy the constant thirst for perfection the sport offers. The mental battle between the lifter and the barbell is like no other. Second to this would be developing a bulging vastus medialis oblique.

What does your current training routine look like? I train four days a week for around two and a half hours each training session. My team’s gym is not conveniently located to my house, so I’m usually either working out at CrossFit Deland or in my garage with my sister while FaceTiming my coach.

 

What one or two things do you currently do in your training that has been impactful? Everything my training consists of is impactful. 

What are your proudest weightlifting achievements? So far, my proudest weightlifting achievements have been qualifying for a Youth International Team and being a three-time national champion. I’m also proud that I have fully embraced wearing a singlet due to the reason that it was quite difficult for me to even wear one with the undershirt at first. 

What is your diet like? I eat healthy for the most part, but I do not currently keep track of my macros or anything. I do drink a lot of water though. 

Who do you look up to in the sport? Why? I look up to many weightlifters such as Li Dayin, Rebeka Koha, Harrison Maurus, Luis Mosquera, and Lu Xiaojun of course. Honestly, I look up to all international champions because I can only imagine the work they put into their craft, and I am going to be one in the future. 

What friendships has this sport brought your way? This sport has brought more friendships than I would’ve ever imagined on both a local and national level. There’s always a level of respect between each other, and quite honestly weightlifters are just cool. 

What qualities do great coaches possess? For me, a great coach is judged by how much passion they have for the sport and the athlete. If a coach has passion permeating off them, it’s infectious. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? At a young age, my stepfather told me to become a student of the sport. 

What characteristics do you strive for? I strive to be a patient and open-minded person who doesn’t abuse the environment, limits his time using technology, and is constantly educating himself. 

When you have random free time, how do you spend it? I’m usually playing PS4, watching YouTube, listening to a podcast, or riding my bike. 

If you could master anything besides weightlifting, what would it be? Memorization. Or maybe meditation. 

What have you learned from weightlifting that helps you in other parts of your life? I’ve learned how much I can endure if I’m in the right place mentally. I learned how much I enjoy anatomy as well. 

The last time you were discouraged in this sport, how did you get back up? I always remember when my stepdad told me, “when it doesn’t feel as if you are progressing physically, you are growing mentally.” This gives me the motivation to persevere through anything. 

Where does your strength come from? Immense levels of hard work. 

What are your weightlifting goals? I’m going to continue to make international teams and consistently progress higher in rankings each competition. Ultimately, I will make it to the Olympics and become an Olympic champion. I want my highlights to be on a big screen behind the platforms at national meets in 25 years.  That would be cool as well. You could also throw in a 250 kg back squat give or take a few depending on my bodyweight. 

Building an Olympian: An Interview with Tim Swords

Tim Swords, coach of Sarah Robles, 2017 World Champion and bronze-medalist at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, shares what it takes to build an Olympian:

Pursue your Passion.  When Coach Swords was a young boy, he visited a drug store with his mother.  At the store, he spotted a fitness magazine with a man doing an Olympic lift, the snatch, on the cover.  Swords asked his mom if she would buy the magazine for him.  She did, and Swords, who was dyslexic and disliked reading, read the magazine three times before his father came home from work that evening.  On hearing that Swords had read the magazine multiple times, Swords’ father told his mother to subscribe to the magazine.  And thus began Swords’ lifetime passion for weightlifting.

As an adult, Swords had opportunities to work as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach.  He chose another path, however–one that allowed him to pursue his passion for coaching weightlifting.  Swords opened a gym in his garage, where he now trains up to 65 athletes–sometimes 30 at a time–as the head coach of Team Houston.  Says Swords:

I have been in the sport since 1979 and watching the sport since 1973.  I have been offered collegiate strength and conditioning jobs, but my heart was in working with kids.  So, I turned down these jobs to follow my passion.

I have about 42,000 hours of coaching on the platform. I haven’t had much compensation, but God has been good to me. I recently retired.  Until then, I had a job that I loved, and it allowed me to get home at 2:00 to train kids. After more than 40 years of coaching weightlifting, I’m still excited about the sport. I chose to follow my passion, and I have lived a happy and prosperous life.

Love Your Athletes.  Coach Swords does not recruit.  However, he never has any problem finding athletes because he embraces his athletes, cares for them, and helps them become the best versions of themselves.

When Sarah Robles approached Coach Swords and asked him to coach her, Swords accepted immediately.  Swords recalls, “Sarah was not in a great place in her career.  She had just received a two-year sanction for taking an over the counter medication for PCOS, and she was having trouble finding someone to coach her.  However, I had seen her compete, and I knew that she was special.”

Coach Swords subsequently helped Robles relocate to Houston, find a job and settle into training.  Over the years, Swords has extended this same helping hand to other athletes.  He once helped two young drug dealers stop selling drugs, become athletes, and secure jobs as collegiate strength and conditioning coaches.  Swords firmly believes that a coach must care about his athletes–in and out of the gym–to achieve success:

I must make my athletes believe that I love them, and I will do everything I can to help them.  There must be a strong relationship between the coach and the athlete.  If the relationship is there, and the trust is there, then you can do amazing things together as a coach/athlete partnership.

 

Believe that YOUR Athletes are the BEST.  Coach Swords explains:

Even the best athletes have self-doubt.  I constantly strive to build up my athletes.  I want them to feel good about themselves and believe that they are the BEST.

When athletes believe they are the best, they will perform their best.

 

 Educate Yourself and Build Relationships.  In his early years, Swords recalls:

I read everything I could read about weightlifting.  I spoke to people who were in the sport.  I sought out mentors and built relationships within the sport. I put my energy into learning what other people did.  I visited sports schools in other countries.

Even after forty years of coaching, Swords seeks out opportunities to learn and grow from other coaches:

I always watch other coaches and athletes.  I observe everything.  I am continually learning.

Stick with What Works.  Coach Swords has used the same program with Sarah Robles for the past five years.

Why?  Because it works.

Swords explains:

We train six days a week with a simple program that involves high intensity–low reps, high weight.  It works, so we keep doing it.

 

Search for the Right Words.  Words have power.  Coach Swords prays each morning for the right words to deliver to his athletes:

I try to make my athletes feel good and charge them up.  I try to make them feel like they are alive.  They are special.  I am constantly motivating them.  I pray to have the right things to say when they need to be said.

Just before Sarah Robles went onto the platform for her winning clean and jerk at the 2017 IWF World Championships, Coach Swords asked her: “Can you give me the best 8 seconds of your life?  If you can, you will go down in weightlifting history.”  Sarah responded, “yes.” She made the lift and won the championship.

Pay Attention to the Little Things.

Winning is in the details.  Coach Swords likes to know the details of everything involving his athletes and their competition.

Swords explains:

Communication is key.  I want to know how my athletes are feeling, how they slept, their nutrition, even the drama that is going on in their lives.

Coach Swords also scrutinizes everything at the competition venue:

When we get to a competition, we walk around the training hall.  We look at the platform.  We recon the area.  We don’t want any surprises.  We familiarize ourselves with everything.  Athletes will have sensory bombardment when they are competing, but you can manage some of this stress by knowing what you are dealing with.

Even the slightest things can become major distractions in the heat of competition.   For instance, in the 2012 Olympics in London, Sarah was thrown off by a buzzing sound coming from a camera moving around on the lifting platform.  She had not been on the platform in advance, and she did not expect the noise.  Coach Swords explains, “At the Rio Olympics, they had that camera, too.  We learned from our experience.”

Coach Swords also observes other coaches and athletes at competitions.  During the 2017 World Championship, Swords constantly collected information:

While we were in the training hall, I was watching people.  I was taking notes on what people were doing–how long it took them to warm up, what lifts they were making and missing.  I had a Scouting report of where people were at.  I come from a background of professional team sports, and it is nice to know who you are dealing with.

 
With over 40 years of coaching experience, Coach Swords knows how to build champions and keep them performing at their best.  He has build a legacy through his athletes that will live on in their lives.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast has been touted as the most important meal of the day. So what do youth weightlifters eat for breakfast? Six members of USA Weightlifting’s 2019 Youth World Team share what they eat for breakfast.

Ryan Grimsland (67 kg), age 16, of Mash Mafia earned best youth male lifter at the 2018 American Open 3 in Las Vegas.  For breakfast, Ryan eats

A bowl of cereal or two waffles and orange juice.  I don’t like to eat a lot in the morning; it makes me feel lethargic.

Dade Stanley (81 kg), age 16, of Team Divergent has won multiple youth national championships and represented Team USA at the 2018 Youth Pan American Games.

My choice for breakfast is either a breakfast sandwich with eggs, ham and cheese on an English muffin or some oatmeal with peanut butter.  Sometimes I’ll eat both if I’m hungry enough!

At only 16-years old, Seth Tom (55 kg), of Team Divergent is a seasoned Team USA athlete.  Seth first competed internationally at the 2016 Youth World Championship on his 15th birthday.  Says Seth:

For breakfast, I usually have oatmeal, two or three eggs, and a piece of fruit.  This is my usual breakfast because it is easy to make and eat before school starts.

Coby Rhodes (61 kg), age 15, of Florida Elite won the 2018 Youth National championship in the 62 kg weight class.   For breakfast, Coby eats:

Special K cereal or waffles with peanut butter and honey.

Hampton Morris (55 kg), age 14, of Dwala Barbell won best 14-15 year old youth male lifter at the 2018 Youth National Championship and earned a bronze medal at the 2018 Youth Pan American Games.

I usually have some kind of carb, like a Kodiak Cake, as well as some kind of protein.  On heavy days and competition days, I like to have a pancake or waffle and a McGriddle.

Hutch Friend (49 kg), age 14, of Team Divergent holds 13 youth American records.  For breakfast Hutch eats:

Two eggs and oatmeal with walnuts, raisins and chia.  On training days, I also drink fresh juice with beets, carrots, lemon and ginger.

Photo Credits to Lifting.Life